I was recently in a meeting where I was sharing about the importance of people being fully integrated into the church. Change in church culture begins with presence.
One parent of an adult son spoke up. I will paraphrase the person, but the comment was basically, "I want segregation! Segregation is the best thing for my son!" When I pushed back gently, the response was, "I want a place (referring to a segregated ministry that meets once a month on a week night) where no one will look at my son as if he is different. I want a place where he will be accepted. So that is why I want segregation."
I responded that "If there are places where your son experiences that kind of treatment, I can understand why you would feel that way. However, how will those places ever change if there is not integration?"
If the person's son is always segregated and is never in contact with other members of the community, then his presence will always be strange because his presence is unusual. However, should that same son be regularly in the mix with everyone else, he will become familiar and hopefully invited to friendship with others. Persons with disabilities are actually very common members of our community unless we isolate them from the community. We make people who are just people seem strange by the social isolation we impose upon them and we shouldn't do that.
Should people fear integrating family members, particularly those with severe disabilities into the community? I can see their concerns, particularly if people have experienced some form of discrimination or poor treatment in the past. It is our natural reaction to protect ourselves or our children. But at the same time, change in our communities will never occur if people are segregated. It is only presence that will lead to cultural change in how we do things. This is true in the church when our traditional ways of doing things can get in the way of the changes that need to occur for integration to take place.
Arguably, the very first step in cultural change is presence. Let's do all we can to facilitate the presence and then model the acceptance that we endeavor to see.